Pastoral Psychology

, Volume 66, Issue 2, pp 147–175 | Cite as

Clergy Burnout: A Comparison Study with Other Helping Professions

  • Christopher J. Adams
  • Holly Hough
  • Rae Jean Proeschold-Bell
  • Jia Yao
  • Melanie Kolkin


Clergy experience a large number of stressors in their work, including role overload and emotional labor. Although studies have found high rates of depression in clergy, the degree of work-related burnout in clergy compared to other occupations is unknown. The widely used Maslach Burnout Inventory (MBI) measures three aspects of burnout: emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and personal accomplishment. We sought studies using comparable versions of the MBI for clergy; for social workers, counselors, and teachers because of those occupations’ emotional intensity and labor; and for police and emergency personnel because of the unpredictability and stress-related physiological arousal in those occupations. We found a total of 84 studies and compared the ranges of burnout scores between the studies of clergy, each additional occupation, and MBI published mean norms. Compared to U.S. norms, clergy exhibited moderate rates of burnout. Across the three kinds of burnout, clergy scores were relatively better than those of police and emergency personnel, similar to those of social workers and teachers, and worse than those of counselors. Clergy may benefit from burnout prevention strategies used by counselors. The moderate levels of burnout found for clergy, despite the numerous stressors associated with their occupation, suggest that clergy generally cope well and may be models to study. Overall, there is room for improvement in burnout for all professions, especially police and emergency personnel. It is important to remember the variation within any profession, including clergy, and prevent and address burnout for those in need.


Clergy Burnout Maslach Burnout Inventory Emotional exhaustion Depersonalization Personal accomplishment Helping professions Social workers Teachers Counselors Police Emergency personnel 



We would like to thank Gail Thomas, Crystal MacAllum, Ed Mann, and their team at Westat, Inc., for all aspects of data collection and cleaning of the Duke Clergy Health Initiative Longitudinal Survey. We thank David Toole for his leadership and support as principal investigator of the Duke Clergy Health Initiative. We also thank Liz Turner from the Duke Global Health Institute Research Design and Analysis Core for statistical advice. This study was funded by a grant from the Rural Church Area of The Duke Endowment.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Christopher J. Adams
    • 1
  • Holly Hough
    • 2
  • Rae Jean Proeschold-Bell
    • 3
  • Jia Yao
    • 4
  • Melanie Kolkin
    • 5
  1. 1.Director of the Center for Vocational MinistryAzusa Pacific UniversityAzusaUSA
  2. 2.Duke Divinity SchoolDuke UniversityDurhamUSA
  3. 3.Duke Center for Health Policy & Inequalities ResearchDuke Global Health InstituteDurhamUSA
  4. 4.Duke Center for Health Policy & Inequalities Research, NINR P30 ADAPT Center for Cognitive/Affective Symptom ScienceDurhamUSA
  5. 5.Duke Divinity School, Duke UniversityDurhamUSA

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